As I continue, slowly, to work my way through the prophetic book of Jeremiah, I’ve come to a section of prophecies against Israel’s neighbors: Egypt, Philistia, Moab, and many others. It doesn’t make for nice, cheery reading! Words like woe, disaster, and desolation pepper the text. Shame, slaughter, calamity. Clearly, Yahweh—the personal, jealous, almighty God of Israel—is not happy with these nations that have waged centuries of war against his chosen people.
But then something else caught my eye: a familiar phrase that I’ve often read in reference to Israel’s own misfortune; a promise God has made to his people in the midst of their distress:
I will restore the fortunes….
What grabbed me this time, though, was the object of that promise: Moab, one of Israel’s perennial antagonists. Tucked in at the very end of a lengthy series of judgments against Moab is this promise to restore the very one against whom the judgments are made!
Wow! That’s grace. And it reveals God’s heart. The “chosenness” of Israel has troubled many people throughout history. Why Israel? Why is this tiny nation so special? Why—over some 8,000 years—has this people been so resilient? The “chosenness” of Israel drives politics even today, such that some believe any nation at enmity with Israel will bear the curse of God.
But these words—I will restore the fortunes—reveal God’s true heart, his true purpose in choosing Israel: “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3).
God’s purpose in choosing Israel was so that everyone on earth—all nations, all peoples, all people—might ultimately receive God’s blessing.
Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures (what we Christians call the “Old Testament”), God judges those nations that fight against Israel because he wants Israel to bless those nations. And he judges Israel when she walks away from him because all peoples cannot be blessed through an adulterous Israel.
God promises to restore the fortunes of Israel because he wants to bless her. And he promises to restore the fortunes of Moab—and Elam, and other nations—because he wants to bless them.
God’s heart, his great desire, is to bless all nations, and to welcome people “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” into his kingdom (Revelation 7:9). That’s grace.